At some point in their growth and development, most businesses regardless of industry eventually reach a point where they realize they can’t do it all themselves. Either they need help marketing their product, or some of their more tedious HR tasks could be outsourced, or their testing operations could be made more efficient by partnering with an outside agency. Some companies outgrow this stage and ultimately reclaim their ability to do things in-house, but others continue to grow with their partnerships in tact. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other—but they both present distinct pros and cons.
For telco operators, this question is particularly pressing. Why? Because network operators and service providers are simply being asked to do so much more than they used to. As recently as a few years ago, the ability to provide high quality audio for voice calls and some mobile data was more than enough to keep customers happy. Now, increasing device fragmentation (including the introduction of IoT devices) plus new use cases popping into being mean that your average telco has to be everything to everybody—offering high quality service for a host of activities that weren’t even feasible a decade ago. In addition to the myriad other areas in which this sea-change adds pressure, this leads to particular operational scrutiny regarding service verification. For that reason, this is a moment in which operators are considering testing in particular as an area for outsourcing or partnering with an outside company. But what are the pros and cons of outsourcing vs. keeping your tests in house?
In-house: Pros and Cons
Most businesses, of course, have a preference for keeping things in-house—especially things like testing and service verification. And there’s good reason for this. A telco operator rolling out an update to its 4G network, for instance, could create close alignment between the development and service verification stages by keeping their test processes under the umbrella of their larger engineering department. This alignment can help testers to pinpoint potential problem areas, all while increasing the likelihood that any bugs the testers uncover will actually be addressed before the update is released. At the same time, telco operators will have increased oversight and insight into tests performed in-house, meaning that they’ll be able to accumulate knowledge and best practices more quickly.
All of this can be extremely value additive—but it does come at a real cost. Your average test engineer can only run through about 6 use cases per day, and this number has been decreasing as the structure of the typical telecom network has become more complex. Device fragmentation, the introduction of new protocols and network elements, and increasingly stringent end-user quality of service requirements make anything from functional testing to ongoing regression tests increasingly time and resource intensive. If you can mobilize a small army of test engineers to tackle any given test process, then this might not be an insurmountable issue. If, on the other hand, your tests are being conducted by engineers who are eager to get back to their other projects (e.g. developing the next set of updates to your network), increased testing complexity can quickly put a strain on your resources.
Is Outsourcing Worth It?
In the latter situation—in which you don’t have resources to spare for what can quickly become a time consuming and involved process—it might be tempting to outsource your tests to testing provider in your industry. On this surface, this idea makes sense: you get your engineers back to the tasks where they provide the most value, and you use testing resources only on an “as-needed” basis. Thus, instead of retaining a large workforce worth of testers, you can summon testers up as needed. On top of that, many of your potential outsourcing partners will boast some level of efficiency, enabling them to provide you with something that’s actually less costly than doing it in-house while offering the potential for higher test coverage.
The question is whether or not those cost savings and increases in test coverage justify what you’re giving up: the chance to accumulate testing knowledge and best practices that you can leverage elsewhere in your organization, and close coordination with your engineering team. If, for example, you’ve outsourced device testing on IoT devices to ensure network compatibility, you might find that while your test coverage is going up, the actual number of bugs resolved isn’t shifting. In this case, your testing partner might not be providing high enough quality reporting to help your engineers pinpoint and address service issues. Or, those reports might be stuck in a silo such that they never reach your engineers in a meaningful way. Here, not only are you not in a position to turn high test coverage into better quality of service, you’re also simultaneously losing out on the chance to develop in-house testing best practices.
At this point you might be thinking, “Okay, but what other choice beyond outsourcing do I have if my in-house resources aren’t enough to attain high test coverage?” Essentially, you need a way to scale up your testing resources as needed without losing control of those processes within your organization. Here, a high quality testing automation provider can actually be a huge help.
Rather than taking over your tests entirely, a test automation partner can give you the tools you need to keep your testing in-house—without having to devote endless time and resources to the process. How is that possible? Well, while a human tester can only run through half a dozen test cases in a day, it’s possible to automate hundreds or thousands, thereby speeding up testing while improving coverage. Not only does this empower you to speed up time-to-market, it also allows you to manage tests yourself, so that you can make absolutely certain the right information is reaching the right people in the right form at the right time. This will help you turn test coverage into actual bug fixes, all while empower you to build an internal test culture. Over time, this can help testing feel less like a burden and more like a key way to add value for your customers.